Proper 20 (Yr B) 9/23/12

9 Sep

 Wisdom 1:16-2:1, 12-22 & Proverbs 31:10-31 or

Track 2 Psalm 54 & Jeremiah 11:18-20

James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

Psalm 1

for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Opening Exercise

Consider the following question:

  • In the eyes of the Lord, is it sufficient that we take a right action, even if not for the right reasons?

 Appointed Passages

 Proverbs 31:10-31

 

10 A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.

12 She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.

13 She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.

14 She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.

15 She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

17 She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.

18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.

19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.

20 She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.

21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.

22 She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.

23 Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.

25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.

26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:

29 “Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.

  •  Several of the qualities of this description of a capable wife match those of wisdom in last week’s passage.  Does this mean that having a good (God fearing) wife constitutes wisdom?
  • Can kindness be taught with words?
  • Does fear of the Lord remove the ill effects of charm and beauty?  If so, how?

James 3: 13-4:3, 7-8a

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. 4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.  7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

  • How can we develop “wisdom from above” (V. 15)?
  • Does “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly…”(V.4:3) suggest motivations for actions are key?
  • Is achieving pleasures for yourself always wrong?  What makes it so?

Mark 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Caper’naum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

{Montreal Commentary:  In Aramaic and Greek the word for “child” is the same as for servant, so v. 36 may also speak of welcoming a servant, one sent by his master. If so, Jesus is saying: whoever receives the servant receives the master. Whoever receives a child receives Jesus, and whoever receives Jesus receives God, who sent him. Both child and servant are without status. They are unable to repay a kindness, in earthly terms.}

  • Does being a disciple require that you abandon ambition for position and prestige?
  • What does it take for people who already have position and prestige to become disciples?
  • Are integrity and humility related?  Is one more fundamental than the other?

Comment

In working with people of wealth over many years, it has become clear that what is inside the person who may be surrounded by the power and prestige of wealth may be (and usually is) remarkably different than what you usually expect on the basis of their surroundings. 

In fact, quoting Thayer Willis, there is a dark side of wealth.  Specifically, the presence of wealth complicates the ability for people to find meaning in their lives, because it is easier to avoid the difficult self scrutiny that emerges from typical hardships that season humans and build their character.  It is perhaps more difficult to even get to the question of “Who are you?”, when there are so many distractions.

Of course it is natural, and expected that we all carry our load and be productive in society and life.  The traditional family father is presumed to be responsible to provide food, shelter, and support “well being” for his family.  Some people are much better at that than others, and due to being lucky in the corporate “lottery” of jobs, some people end up significant winners in the economic accumulations in life. 

But where does the line emerge between being a responsible creator of wealth that will be used for good and a self centered person who spends extravagant amounts on pleasures that are frivolous?  We probably all have made decisions that can be classified in both of these categories (note the quote below by Solzhenitsyn).

It is interesting that the typical human response is to envy people of wealth.  The very presence of wealth brings power.  People of wealth do not have to “sell their time and efforts” to support themselves, can travel as much as they want, have access to people and places that “ordinary” folks do not, and in general can experience any pleasure in life that happens to strike their fancy.

I’m reminded of the people in the animated movie Wall-E who had been evacuated to space from a polluted earth.  They were all overweight and lived on airborne lounge chairs that floated them around to meals, movies, shopping, etc.  They had actually become slaves to shallow lives the system supported and no longer even thought about things that may have truly given meaning to their lives.

In today’s gospel passage, Jesus reminds the disciples to quit comparing themselves to each other for relative ranking in importance and status.  The very act of doing so places the wrong measures of life on the table.  What counts is how we translate who we are into the relationships we have with others – particularly those who may need help in some way – whether they are wealthy or not.

My prayer for today is that more of us spend time thinking not how to get ahead, but behind others who might benefit from our being a catalyst supporting their personal growth.

Quotes for Today:

All those who are righteous are in the hand of God.  In the eyes of the foolish, the righteous may seem to be weak, to be useless; but they have peace. They have hope, and that hope is full of the promise of immortality.

Susanna Metz (paraphrasing a verse from Proverbs)

If only there were vile people…committing evil deeds, and it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

We say we exchange words when we meet. What we exchange is souls.

Minot J. Savage

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